Nautiqa Garcia has heard the jokes.
The Eastern junior has heard the bad things said about her school.
And she’s too often heard about the Quakers’ struggles on the basketball court.
All of that has Garcia driven to be part of the solution for the Eastern girls basketball team.
“I want to get Eastern known,” said Garcia, who is in her second year playing varsity for the Quakers. “We’re not as bad as people say we are. We’re definitely putting the work in and we’re getting better day by day.”
Eastern finally saw proof of its improvement earlier this month when it beat city rival Everett to halt the program’s 67-game losing streak. That victory was the Quakers’ first since Feb. 2013 and marked a moment sixth-year coach Curtiss Wright has been waiting to experience.
“I think every coach in there had tears in their eyes because finally we saw they were able to make that happen,” Wright said. “It’s not a dream, it’s something (where) they realized that if they put the hard work in, they can win.”
It’s been a tough journey the last several seasons for Wright getting the Quakers to a point they were competitive. The program has been in rebuild mode for several seasons, but it also been a struggle for Wright to find girls interested in playing. And some of the girls he finds lack basketball experience, which has meant more teaching than coaching for Wright.
A declining enrollment at Eastern, which is now a Class B school after spending numerous years in Class A, hasn’t helped matters.
“At Eastern, and with the group we’re able to pick from, we don’t have a lot of girls that want to play basketball,” Wright said. “I don’t know if it’s because we have a losing season or a losing program. I have to go in at lunch time and try and get girls to play. A majority of them tell me ‘Coach, I don’t know anything about basketball.’ I tell them it doesn’t matter and we’ll teach you. We’re teaching some of the basic things and the very fundamental things at the high school level. Some players are not deciding to play until 11th grade.”
Those issues have made it hard for the Quakers to be competitive and led to three straight seasons without a win. The program entered this season with just two wins since Wright took over in 2011.
But Garcia and Wright see better days ahead for Eastern. And the recent victory over Everett served as a starting point.
“We still have a lot to learn, but they put in their time over the summer,” said Wright, whose team has surpassed 30 points in five of eight games after reaching that mark just three times last season. “They were determined to try to change this whole program. Their emphasis has been on putting us back on the map again. The lady Quakers, for years they were taking the laughs and the criticism for not having a good team. We know too that the league itself was very good.
“We’ve got people out there that play hard and work hard. The win is how it pays off for them. We just had to get there.”
Garcia is ready to keep the forward progress going and is trying to help the Quakers build off the victory and find more success this season.
“We’ve improved a lot and we’re competing in games now,” Garcia said. “We’re doing our best with what we can, and we roll with what we’ve got. We’re low on numbers, but we’re definitely going to change the way people think of Eastern, and we’re just going to show them different.”
Contact Brian Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.